Gene Collier: Game has stopped, but life keeps going for ex-Penguins winger Adams
January 31, 2016 12:00 AM
Craig Adams wasn't much of a scorer when with the Penguins, but he sure seems suited for success after hockey.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Craig Adams said he was in his car, on his way to work, and that’s when it really struck me, like a puck to the ankle.
Not that I’d know.
So wait, Craig Adams is on his way to work, and when he gets to work, there will be no skating, no ice, no icing, no cross-checking, no roughing, no mucking, no grinding, no bleeding, no cheering, and very possibly no stitches?
Apparently it’s all perfectly legal, and now it’s official. Hockey players of Adams’ pedigree and aptitude retire all the time with so little notice that often you don’t know they’re gone until someone mentions their name years later, but it shouldn’t happen to the guy who owns the all-time Penguins record for consecutive games played. That number is 319, almost four seasons’ worth, a number that looks positively mammoth against a current roster on which some guys seem lucky to get through two weeks without an undisclosed injury.
“Obviously at various points in my career I’d thought about what to do next, but it’s come into sharper focus the last couple of years,” Adams said from Boston, to where he moved in June for a job at Merrill Lynch. “I had a pretty good experience with the NHLPA on the pension committee. I started to get my feet wet there in terms of investments and the responsibilities that go with that.”
A patient, clarifying spokesman for the union’s position during the lockout of 2012-2013, Adams scheduled practices and ran drills for Penguins lockoutees at Southpointe, and those workouts, to no one’s surprise, were every bit as intense as their coordinator. Adams’ energy and determination got him through 14 NHL seasons more than anything he was doing with the puck. Coaching or managing hockey talent is where a lot of people had Adams slotted when his playing days ended, and Adams was among them.
But not for long.
“It was my first inclination and it was definitely appealing in a lot of ways,” he said. “I really enjoyed the management side, and I really enjoyed the coaching side. It was probably the path of least resistance for me. But I did a lot of thinking about it, and I decided to get myself a new challenge and do just what was comfortable. It was a tough decision and, sure, there will be a lot of time I’ll miss being close to the game. But when you make a decision to stay in hockey, you make the decision to be all in. You live and die with your team and you give up a lot of control. It can end up affecting your family a lot of ways.
“We were on that rollercoaster for a long time, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The life experience Adams turned into an NHL career is among the more intriguing hockey stories ever told. He was an extraordinary person doing doggedly ordinary NHL things. Skating his wing, being a pest, killing penalties, his value was in optimized reliability — he was always willing and always able to do those things. As it happened, he was a lot more interesting when the game stopped, and that’s a compliment.
The only NHL player ever born in Brunei, his parents were British, his father a petroleum engineer. After Adams was born, they moved him and his brother back to England, and from there to Calgary, where they decided to put down some real roots. That’s where Adams started playing, and he would eventually play four seasons at Harvard, where he studied history. Taken in the sixth round of the final NHL draft that included the Hartford Whalers, he began a pro career in which he wore the colors of the Cincinnati Cyclones, Lowell Lock Monsters, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks before the Penguins.
And don’t forget the Milano (Italy) Vipers. Always count the Vipers. That’s good advice any time.
The Penguins got lucky in March 2009, when the Blackhawks, looking to upgrade their roster at the trade deadline, put Adams on waivers.
“It was a stressful time,” he remembered. “My wife was about eight months pregnant. Things hadn’t gone well in Chicago. This was sort of my last chance. But [then-Penguins coach] Dan [Bylsma] gave me a role to play, and once we got in the playoffs, it was obviously great.”
Playing right wing on the fourth line and killing penalties, Adams helped make those Stanley Cup-winning Penguins almost impossible to play against. And the guy who once played every game of a season without scoring a single goal had three goals and two assists in 24 playoff games that spring.
The same general manager who gave him his first chance, Jimmy Rutherford, for whom he helped win the Cup in 2006, did not sign him after last season, his seventh with the Penguins.
He announced his retirement though the players’ association Tuesday, and I asked him if the week had been hard on him.
“No, not at all,” he said. “The announcement itself was just a formality. I’ve been mentally retired for a while now. I miss playing. Everybody does. But I’ve been so busy since we made the decision to move here, with three kids and living in a new town, looking toward this new challenge. I’m not one to sit and wallow. I definitely have my eyes on the future. I’m focused.”
That he is, and that he was. And rather than some obscure line in back-of-the-paper transaction columns, what that focus once meant for the Penguins is what ought to be remembered.
Gene Collier: email@example.com and Twitter @genecollier.
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